"I will love you if I never see you again,
and I will love you if I see you every Tuesday."
There are not many days that Naruto feels his age. He supposes it’s a side effect of the abundance of chakra that Kurama has stored, but the years pass him by gently, pass him by easily, and though his friends are already starting to go salt-and-pepper, his hair is as lemon yellow as the day he turned twenty-five. The only lines he has on his face are the three on each cheek, but they do change, grow darker as the years go by and Kurama sinks deeper and deeper into his blood.
Today, though, he feels every bit the thirty-five he’s become. It might be because everyone’s been coming to remind him, what with the surprise party in the morning and Sakura socking him right in the jaw then bursting into tears, telling him seriously, “I never thought you’d live this long,” which, okay, thanks for the vote of confidence.
Kakashi had caught him in the square just as he was about to break for lunch and noogied him on the head for a solid five minutes, claiming that it was his right as his sensei who put up with far too much of his shit for one lifetime. To be honest, Naruto didn’t mind, because thirty-five or not, Kakashi is still a father figure to him, even though it’s a little undermining to the reputation of the Hokage if he has to stand, surrounded by everyone in the village, while an elderly individual rubs his hair like he’s trying to make him go bald.
After that there were the regular congratulations—Shino poking his head through the door, Tenten and Ino giving him a joint bouquet of hand-wrought kunai (rare in the industrial age Konoha has found itself in) and flowers, Shikamaru handing him another file with a wry smile and a, “you asked to be this, Hokage-sama, don’t start complaining now.”
He loves his friends, he really does, he loves the children that run up to him as he does his daily round and say, “happy birthday, Hokage-sama,” and he loves Konoha. He just feels really, really old now, so please forgive him when he ditches Shikamaru with a shadow clone (though he’s become very good at spotting them, and Naruto knows this will only give him about a five minute head-start at maximum, tragic, really) and has run off into the forest, hands in his pockets as he slips quietly through the trees.
God, he’s old. Thirty-five, fuck. He’s lost in his thoughts, musing at his age and the things he’s seen and done (way too many) that he screams when somebody says “yo!” right into his ear.
Jesus fucking christ. He knows he’s old but he didn’t think he was unable to hear Kiba sneaking up on him old. Maybe he needed to book an appointment with Sakura, check out the ears.
To give him credit, Kiba only laughs for a full minute before he calms down, wiping tears from the corner of his eyes. “Hokage-sama,” he snickers. “You really don’t change, do you?”
“Shut up,” he laughs, folding his arms across his chest and leaning back against a tree. “What are you doing here? Shikamaru ask you to drag me back? Tell him I’m not going unless he’s got ramen.”
“Nah,” Kiba waves his hands and shrugs. “Nothing like that. I’m always up for helping you ditch work.”
“I’m actually here to give you a birthday present,” Kiba grins at him, all pointed teeth. Naruto blinks at him, then notices that by his foot is a small rectangular thing wrapped in a white cloth. “I don’t know if you’ll have the time for it, or even if you’ll keep it. So maybe it’s more a birthday offering rather than a gift.”
“What is it?”
Kiba gently picks up the thing and holds it out for Naruto, who comes forward tentatively and takes it into his hands. As soon as it passes over he can tell that it’s surprisingly light, and that there’s something alive in there, snuffling and rolling about.
“What is it? ”
With an air of dramatic mystery, Kiba undoes the cloth at the top and it falls away to reveal a small barred kennel. In it is a black dog, small, so small—he could fit into the palm of his hand.
“He was born just the month before,” comes the explanation, when Naruto looks at him questioningly. “The runt of the litter. He’s far too small and frail to become a shinobi companion, but the Inuzuka will never abandon a dog born to us.”
The small thing rolls about in the cage and peers at Naruto with wide eyes.
“That said, you know, I guess I thought you might like to have him,” Kiba continues, smiling at the tiny dog with fondness. “No wife, no kid, but I don’t see why you should come back to an empty apartment. The pup’s small sure, but he’s got a feisty temperament and a kick to him. He’ll make a great companion.”
“Does he have a name?” Naruto whispers. “Can I—“
“Go ahead,” Kiba encourages, and Naruto gently opens the iron door and reaches in, letting the dog give him a tentative sniff before stepping onto his palm and letting himself be scooped out of the kennel. “For now his name is Kuro, cuz he’s black all over, but you can call him whatever. He’s young enough that he’ll adapt real quick.”
Naruto holds the tiny thing in his hands—it’s warm, so warm, and breathing, and he can feel it’s little heartbeat as he lies down and he feels like he’s exploding into a million pieces.
“Dude. Dude, are you crying?”
“I think— sniff —this is what fatherhood feels like.”
Kiba stares at him, then grins, full of teeth and crinkled eyes. “You’re not wrong,” he guffaws. “I’ll send over some supplies to your place, okay? You think you can handle him with your Hokage duties, your Hokageliness?”
Naruto makes a face at him then holds out the tiny pupper, who cocks his head at him and twitches an ear. “Sasu-chan, you know what to do!”
“Sasu-chan?!” Kiba yelps, going almost as red as his markings, but then the pupper turns firmly around in his hand, regards Kiba with a somewhat questioning air, then leaps straight for him. The dog lands firmly on Kiba’s face, who screams, Akamaru to his side barks in a way that could be laughter, and Naruto stands there, watching this tiny dog give it his all, and feels almost a sense of peace.
He carries the little thing home in his pocket—at one point having to run away screaming from Shikamaru, who has a surprisingly loud yell for someone so quiet—but he makes it back to his apartment in one piece. It stings to know that the only reason he got away with it was Shikamaru letting him go, but it’s fine. It’s whatever. He’s lucky to have such a good person like him on his side, Lord knows he’d be dead without him.
“Alright, Sasu-chan,” he says, ushering the puppy into his apartment. “Welcome to your new home. Do not pee anywhere except for this mat, got it? I don’t think I can mop tatami floors,” he frowns at the ground. “Can you? Well, maybe there’s a jutsu, but I’d rather not.”
The dog nods like he understands, and leaps from his palms to pad into the apartment and check out the other rooms. Since becoming the Hokage, his living standards had skyrocketed. While he could’ve gone fancier, the opulence messed with him— why would he ever need three bathrooms. He’s Konoha’s most eligible bachelor for crying out loud, there’s nobody who lives in the house but him, and sometimes Lee when Sakura—well, whatever they fight about. He’s not sure. In fact, sometimes it seems like Lee just likes staying with him.
The tatami mats of this particular apartment’s living room and bedroom hadn’t been ideal—look at him, he’s a mess, and just the other day he spilled miso soup while carrying it to his room and had to perform a series of elaborate techniques to prevent it from getting on the mats, but he’s grown quite fond of them.
He’s just taken one step beyond the entrance hall when his hair stands on end.
Kurama stirs; a warning growl he feels deep in his bones.
The world stops.
“Ow,” says Sasuke, so monotone and deadpan he might as well have not said anything at all. Naruto gapes at him, then at Sasu-chan biting onto the hand of the real Sasuke, hanging limply from it while blood trickles from the tiny punctures. “When did you get a dog?”
Naruto doesn’t really know what to say. What do you say to someone you haven’t seen in almost a decade?
“Um,” he replies, flustered. “Like, two hours ago.”
“I see.” Sasuke shakes his hand a little, but the dog resolutely holds on. “Could you tell him to let me go?”
Right. He should-- he hurries to his side, trying to gather Sasu-chan in his hands. “It’s alright, Sas—Kuro,” he yelps, but he knows Sasuke caught the slip. Damn it. “You can let go of him.”
The dog seems unconvinced but he drops Sasuke, curling up in Naruto’s hands and growling at the newcomer.
“Sas—Sas what?” Sasuke asks, eyebrows raised. “You’ve named your dog after me?”
Despite knowing this was coming, he still manages to turn bright red. “Absolutely not no I haven’t!” Realising that he is, in fact, shouting, he drops his voice and looks firmly at him. “His name is Sasame. He’s named after one of the best shinobi I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Which was when I was a child, and you were on a revenge-fueled murderquest, so don’t expect to know her.”
“But the dog is a boy.”
Naruto puts his hands on his hips. “Do you have a problem with his name?”
Sasuke rolls his eyes. “No,” he says, visibly irritated.
“What are you doing here?” Naruto asks, setting Sasu-chan onto the ground and stepping carefully over him to head to his kitchen. “First of all, rude bastard, you have your shoes on. I could forgive such a slight upon my honour, but you’ve also been evading taxes for the past ten years and I’m going to need that. I’ve got a big R&D thing planned with the medics and I need money.”
Ignoring the last part, Sasuke glances down at his feet. He does still have his shoes on. Without a word he walks to the entrance, carefully takes off his shoes, and comes back to stand next to him again.
Okay. That’s something. “You’re freaking me out,” says Naruto, eye twitching.
“Happy birthday,” deadpans Sasuke.
“Mm, okay, you’re freaking me out even more,” Naruto squints at him and gives him the patented Uzumaki side-eye. Weaving a sign, he keeps his eyes firmly fixed on Sasuke and barks, “kai!”
Sasuke stares at him blankly. Then, “fuck you.”
“I hate you.”
Naruto stops attempting to break the genjutsu and pokes him instead. “Say that again.”
“I hate you?”
“I don’t know, it’s still sounding a little weak to me,” but there’s a small smile on his face and he leans back against his counters. “Be serious, Sasuke. There’s no way you came back after ten years of intense radio silence just to wish me a happy birthday.”
In Naruto’s well-lit living room and against the burnished gold of the setting sun, Sasuke looks so out of place that he could well be just a figment of his imagination. He’s allowed his dark hair to grow long—Naruto is struck by his resemblance to his brother—but it’s been pulled away from his face by an out-of-character red ribbon, which secures his hair in a ponytail. His Rinnegan is covered by a faded black eyepatch. What makes him smile, and makes him ache, and makes him nostalgic beyond all measure, are the hints of dull grey woven through the black strands and the wrinkles just above his forehead. All that dumb frowning, Naruto thinks fondly. He warned him, didn’t he?
Sasuke looks uncomfortable. “What if I did?”
Huh. “Well. Then I’d ask why.”
“I’m getting old,” Sasuke muses. “We’re getting very old. You don’t look it though,” he makes as if to reach out a hand, then thinks better of it and pulls it back harshly. “You don’t look like you’ve aged a day since I left,” he decides.
Naruto tugs on his hair. He’s allowed it to grow long too, but not as long as Sasuke—just a rather shaggy mop on the top of his head, long down the sides as well. His resemblance to Minato is uncanny, particularly since he seemingly stopped getting old. “Mm, so I’ve been told. Thanks for leaving a note, by the way. I probably should’ve stopped ageing at twenty, but you had to cause me several lifetimes of stress.”
“Ah.” Sasuke has the decency to look sheepish. Well, he doesn’t, but Naruto knows what his eyes look like, and right now they have a slight sheepish tinge to them. He squints at him harder. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, actually.
“I’m not going to ask you if you’re staying, or not, because you’d just lie to me,” he pushes himself off the counter and ignores the churning feeling in his stomach. Ten years.
On the day of his Hokage ceremony, Naruto puked three times, burst into tears over a small thread poking out of his shirt, then apparently summoned four shadow clones so that they could babble to each other in tear-filled misery (he doesn’t remember this part). Sasuke had stood with him through it all, pulled his hair back from his face as he knelt over the toilet bowl, and extinguished his shadow clones to give him a good smack on the face and a get yourself together.
After the ceremony though—Naruto had come back to their shared apartment to grab the sake and poof, Sasuke was just—up and gone. No note, no nothing, only his coat off the door and his shoes missing from the rack. The fucker. And now he expects to be forgiven. Which Naruto will do , because he’s spent the past twenty-three years (Jesus Christ) in love with him, but he’s going to kick up a big hoo-hah about it first.
God, he really wishes he took Ino’s advice and just married Hinata. Could’ve had kids by now, brats running about his feet, not an emotionally unavailable asshole who never recovered from his edgy phase standing in his kitchen and not meeting his eyes.
“You,” Sasuke starts, then falters. “You still have my bedsheets on the bed in the other room. They’re not dusty. Did you know I was comi—“
Ack . “God, no,” Naruto deflects from the redness in his cheeks with the harshness of his words but he knows Sasuke will see right through him. Curse the two of them. “I just. I keep it clean. For you. In case you came home.”
Sasuke is quiet, but he knows what he’s thinking.
Ten years. You did that for ten years?
Yeah. He did. So what. And when he missed him terribly and his bones felt so old, he’d fall asleep on those sheets and try not to feel so helpless. Try not to wonder where he went wrong, tried to accept it was just in Sasuke’s nature to hate himself, to feel constrained and restrained by love and affection.
Ugh, they’re such old men now. Sasuke’s got white in his hair and lines on his face. Old man. Hag. Naruto wants to kiss him silly and knock him unconscious in the same breath.
“Can I stay?”
Swallowing against the lump in his throat, Naruto manages to spit, “you’re a dick.”
Sasuke bows his head and stares at his feet.
“Do you even think about how much you hurt me?”
There’s no reply. He expected as much. “Stay as long as you want. Stay forever,” he throws out the words easily. “But—hey, promise me one thing?”
“Hah,” he rocks back on his heels with a wry smile.“What’s happened to you in the past ten years? This kind of you feels weird.”
Sasuke makes a non-committal noise. “A lot has happened.”
“Mm. I’d imagine so. If you leave again after you choose to stay, after you come into my house and expect me to love you again—which I do, but is beside the point,” his smile turns a gentle shade of bitter. “Don’t come back.”
Whatever it was he was expecting to hear it probably wasn’t this. Sasuke stiffens and takes on a constipated look.
Voice dripping with hurt and regret, Naruto says, “I can’t take it, you know? I have a life too. I’d like to live it. I would like to live it with you in it. I’m thirty-five years old today, and I’m old enough that the dew on autumn mornings makes my knees hurt and I wish I was old enough to let you go too but, you know, I don’t think I ever can,” he shrugs lightly. “So. I say don’t come back, I mean don’t come back, but you know if you do, your bedsheets would still be clean and on the bed. There’ll be your favourite tea in the pantry. I’m—“ he trails off helplessly.
Thankfully, he doesn’t have to finish because Sasuke takes a breath and leans forward, hand reaching up and gently brushing the side of Naruto’s cheek with the back of his knuckles—gentle, gentle in a way he hasn’t been in a long, long time. Gentle enough to make Naruto cry, if he so wished. He blinks back tears. “I’ve walked almost everywhere,” he says softly. “I saw the sunset over a lake on fire. I met a boy with missing front-teeth who, at six, already knew how to die for his village. I named a new species of flower. It’s golden, like you, so it’s called the Naruto. It only blooms every five years, and only under the sunrise.”
“What are you—“
“Everywhere I went they spoke of you. They may not have met you, but they’ve heard of you. The boy with the hair and heart of gold. The Hokage brighter and stronger than fire itself.”
Naruto stares at his nose. It’s the only part of him he feels confident looking at.
Sasuke’s palm is cold.
Theirs should be a love story, but the Uchihas are tragic and those doomed to love them are more so. The thing is: Naruto won’t let it be tragic forever. Destiny has never met someone like him before—the boy who laughs in the face of tragedy and smiles in the shadow of pain, attributes he’s worked so damn hard and held so much back to be able to have.
So theirs will be a love story. Because Naruto wants it to be. Because Sasuke came back, which means—which means he must want it to be too, right?
“Will you leave after?”
Sasuke says, “not without you,” and Naruto feels his stomach drop out from under him.
Thirty-five. They’re thirty-five.
He’s older now than his father ever was. Sasuke’s older now than his brother ever was.
God. To think it’s taken them this long.
“Are you sure?” Naruto asks, voice soft. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
Sasuke lets go of him and steps backwards. “There are things I can never forgive Konoha for but they are now so long ago that even the ghosts are tired of being kept awake. You said it best. We’re thirty-five years old. Now there’s white in my hair and a line in my forehead right where you told me there would be one.”
“I did warn you.”
Sasuke seems like he wants to smile.
“I didn’t think I’d be alive at thirty-five.”
“Neither did I.”
“I thought about it,” Sasuke’s voice goes quieter, such that Naruto has to strain to hear him. “What I would regret if I died at this very moment. I decided it wasn’t leaving again, ten years ago, and it wasn’t leaving the first time.”
“Well. There’s my life’s mission, completely wasted on you. Thanks for that.”
Sasuke does smile now, soft and unguarded. Naruto watches, enraptured. He says, in a kind of whisper, like its words only meant for him to hear, and no one else, “my greatest regret would’ve been not coming back.”
“Oh?” Raising an eyebrow, Naruto folds his arms across his chest and stares at him.
Sasuke at thirty-five seems more mellow. More hollow, but not in a bad way, not in a sad way, more like he’s divested himself of the ghosts that he carried in his soul and is now unsure what to fill the hole with. Maybe that’s why he left ten years ago. Maybe he went looking, and he filled it with golden flowers and the moonlight on seawater, a lake on fire and the world at large.
And then maybe he came back to fill it with him.
Naruto will not take it slow. He’s waited for twenty-three years, and he’s done waiting. Done chasing after the back of somebody who always only looked forward. Tired of letting the tragedy of the Uchihas justify how much shit he let Sasuke get away with.
“I know your bedsheets are on the bed, but don’t—not—-“ he growls under his breath, frustrated, then grabs him by the front of his shirt and pulls him close, their foreheads knocking together. Black on blue. Sun and moon. Naruto presses a kiss to the corner of his lips and steps away from him. “I haven’t quite forgiven you yet.”
Sasuke takes a deep breath, then, “understandable.” He’d always been so quick to blush.
“But you’re staying with me,” Naruto takes his wrist and drags him to his bedroom. He gestures pointedly at the bed. “You’re going to sleep here.”
“I will probably have a heart attack if you leave without telling me where you’re going.”
“I’ll keep you informed.”
“You’re going to take Sasu-chan on walks and you’re going to like him.”
“I probably won’t.”
Naruto stops suddenly to look at him. Sasuke’s still just slightly taller than him. That’s annoying, he thinks. After all he’d done for his sorry ass you’d think he’d at least get to be taller.
“What will you do here?” He asks. “What do you want to do? There aren’t as many S-rank missions anymore now; the countries are still recovering. And while I trust you to sit in on the Kage meetings, and actually could use your opinion, they will try and kill you.”
Sasuke offers him a smile at that. “Ah. I have thought about this.”
“I want to take on a genin team.”
Naruto’s eyes bug out of his face. Sputtering, he waves his arms about and yelps, “you—what—huh? Kai!”
Sasuke smacks him on the back of his head and growls at him. “Shut the fuck up. I—well, I had the equivalent of a genin team while I was away. Not by my choice. They just—I chanced upon them in the woods just off the Land of Tea. Orphans, the three of them. No talent whatsoever. Complete idiots. Worse than the three of us. They figured out I was from Konoha by my accent, then they figured out I knew you. Well. They didn’t. They assumed.”
Naruto can’t quite believe his ears.
“I couldn’t get them to leave me alone after that. They chased after me into a pit of bandits. Like I said, not the brightest. I thought I’d just keep them and test them and they’d chicken out but—ah—somehow it went on for five years.”
This is insane. Sasuke had kids while he was away. Actual children. Who he didn’t—Naruto hopes—try to murder. Actually...he frowns at him. “Where are they now?”
“Oh, alive,” Sasuke says dismissively. He’d seen right through him then. Classic.
“I’d hope so.”
He shrugs. “They all found jobs, one by one. Protecting towns and villages. Working as shinobi for the Hidden Mist. They’re good kids. When they all left I thought. I mean. They bullied me into it, but I thought it was time I head back. I was going to do it anyway, regardless of what they said.”
Naruto dwells on this. Sasuke seems almost amused at his Hokage Thinking Face, but he’s perfected it over the years, thank you very much. He can be serious, or at least look serious, now. “I can give you a genin team, but you’re going to have to earn the trust of the village first. I don’t think anyone’s parents would consent to the idea of an international—although acquitted—terrorist taking their children out on missions. No matter what I tell them about it. And I’ve tried, but it’s really quite hard to argue against the facts.”
Sasuke winces. “Ah. Well, I prefer the orphaned ones anyway,” he muses. “The ones without anyone, and with no talent, and are generally hopeless lost causes. The ones kind of like you,” Naruto whacks him on the back of his head. Surprisingly, Sasuke lets him do it, even though they both know he could’ve easily avoided it. “But I heard that Konoha stopped with the practice of genin teams.”
Oho. So he’s heard, has he? “We certainly did change it, thank you for noticing,” Naruto replies quite proudly. He’d fought so hard for it, but damn had it been the right one—fuck sending children out at twelve to kill or be killed. One minute laughing with each other over a joke about poop, the next having to send a kunai into the throat of a grown man. “Genin teams only start at the age of fifteen, and even then, they’re not expected to take missions where it’ll be life-or-death. They only have to think about that when they become chunin, and even then it’s a gradual entry. It might be quite boring for you.”
“That’s okay. It’s better than what we went through. I heard you kicked up quite the storm about it,” Sasuke smiles slightly. “Heard the Hokage threatened to quit.”
Naruto’s face takes on a dark expression he rarely wears but when he does terrifies all those who see. “The Elders are the bane of my existence,” he hisses, voice like poison. Sasuke almost seems a little taken aback at the vehemence in his tone. “I cannot wait till they kick the bucket and drop dead. Hell—can you believe they wouldn’t let me redirect funds from chemical experimentation into orphanages and a functional welfare system? Can you believe ? When the failure of Konoha to care for the weak and the abandoned basically started a war? I’d boot them into a wall if I could.”
There’s a sound from Sasuke that Naruto doesn’t recognise. It takes him a moment, and by that time the sound has already stopped, but he—he—“oh my god, was that a laugh?”
Sasuke clams up immediately. “No.”
“It was .”
“Shut up, it was,” Naruto tackles him and they both go tumbling into a wall. “Did your kids teach you how to laugh? I’d love to meet them one day. The people who thawed out Sasuke-sensei’s cold, evil heart.”
“Let go of me.”
“Absolutely not,” grinning at him, Naruto drops his shirt to cup the sides of his face. “You’re really real and really here. You’ve got so much to tell me. What you and your team did. What shit you led them into. How many times they had to rescue you.”
“They never had to,” says Sasuke just sulkily enough for him to know he’s lying.
“I have to meet them.”
The way he says his name makes him pause. Sasuke’s always said his name… different. Like it’s more than just an identifier, like it’s an identity , something precious, full and round. He’s always said his name like this. Always.
Sasuke leans forward and presses his lips to his. Cold. Slightly chapped. Naruto kisses back with the enthusiasm born out of waiting several decades for it and he smiles into the kiss, gentle and serene.
“You’ve gotten better since the last time we did it.”
Hey! The audacity—“We were twelve and I fell on you,” Naruto grouses, insulted. “It’s not like you were any better. You licked me that time in the waterfall.”
Sasuke reels back from him. “I did not lick you!”
“A hundred percent you did,” he teases. “Right across my lips. How could I forget?”
“Shut the fuck up.”
Sasuke flushes a bright red and glares at him with a surprising amount of heat for only having one eye. “Fine,” he says, then slings his hand over Naruto’s waist, flips him around easily, and shoves his face into the mattress.
Spluttering, Naruto kicks him in the face as he extricates himself, yelling, “you are so epically unsexy that I can’t even—why do I—“
They’re thirty-five. Old, old men. Old men who have been through a bit too much. Ancient geezers acting like children around each other.
It’s taking them a long time, but they’re writing a love story together. It, like all good love stories, started small. Insignificant. Then it was a tiny fire you protected from the wind, unsure of why you did. Maybe it was because it kept you warm. Maybe because you liked the red-orange glow.
Naruto steps back from the tiny fire in his palm and looks at a crackling bonfire. But it’s not one out of control and it’s not one of destruction and chaos and ash, but a gentle one. One that keeps the warmth of the hearth. One that you come home to; stepping out of the cold, kicking snow onto the mat.
That fire is now fed with:
A kiss that makes the two of them topple over one another and onto the bed. A dog that yaps at them until they break away and take the tiny creature up into their hands and let it curl up on Sasuke’s chest, much to his (supposed) displeasure.
Hands that linger. A touch that stays.
An I love you that is whispered between the two of them, and only for the two of them. The other doesn’t reply, because his smile is too big for his face, a smile that only grows bigger and dumber as they look each other, but he knows all the same.